When someone turns 90, especially when they’re your parent, it’s time to do something special. Though we’ll have a dinner at that restaurant you like, that’s not really enough. I want to do something that means so much more. I want to tell a story of thanks. Thanks for something you taught me a long time ago that has indelibly affected my life as a professional, as a parent, and as a person.
The year was 1968. I was 10 years old that Spring. For reasons I didn’t understand, I spent all my spare time as a 5th grader volunteering in the Presidential campaign of Senator Robert Kennedy. As my involvement deepened, I passed out lots of leaflets and stuffed lots envelopes at Kennedy headquarters in Chula Vista. As I remember, it was a typical evening at home, long before the tragic ending of the campaign. You and I got into an argument and debate over who would make a better President, my candidate or yours, Senator Eugene McCarthy. I remember feeling so strongly about being right, that “Bobby” was better. I also remember being initially afraid to have that argument with you. After all, you were my Dad.
What I remember the most (though not the exact wording you used) was that you made it ok for us to discuss and disagree that night in the right way that respected the other person’s opinion, even helping me to tell you I thought you were wrong. To this day, I believe your example and encouragement that night helps me to create conversations in places I care about that try to make room for everyone, even and especially if they have a different way of looking at things and even if they’re young.
What is radical about this is that you deliberately set the difficult example not just for yourself but for me. You resisted the easy thing to do which would be to cut off the conversation because you were the parent. I wonder to this day how many parents strive as you did to intentionally set an example for their children to follow in their future relationships. To honor what you did, I promise to continue to ask others that question.
As we approach your milestone day, thank you for that beautiful example. Your decision to stoke our debate that night guides me now 44 years later in ways that will live far into the future. I will always love you for that.
Happy Birthday Dad!